Rethinking Growth

Written By: - Date published: 7:31 am, August 8th, 2010 - 80 comments
Categories: economy, equality, sustainability - Tags: ,

For the last several decades the over-riding mantra across western governments has been that what is important above all else is economic growth.  Initially this made sense – the growth lifted people out of poverty, improved lifestyles and so on.  But now is the time to question whether it should still be our main aim and guiding light.

The first and most prominent question for growth now has to be: is it sustainable?  The world’s resources are currently consumed at an alarming rate, with the imminent prospect of Peak Oil, Peak Metal and Water Wars.  Climate Change is upon us, and our uptake of green technologies is too slow. But even if we do suddenly take to electric cars, powered from a national grid of nuclear fusion, wave power and desert solar, our cars and phones will be using too many rare metals and there may not be enough water for 9+ billion people to all eat as much meat as they’d like.

There has long been a tension between current residents of countries and any influx of immigrants, particularly if the “locals” consider their country over-crowded – as most countries do now.  But to governments, immigrants are great for the economy and economic growth.  They tend to be highly motivated, their childhood and often their education has already been paid for; they are instant taxpayers, who instantly grow your economy.  A high birthrate for your country isn’t quite as good as immigration, but it still ultimately helps your goal of Growth, Growth, Growth.

But the world is already overpopulated and under-resourced, we don’t need our over-arching goal to encourage more births.

The less radical solution to this is to have world economies measured in GDP/capita, rather than straight GDP.  This probably wouldn’t fly with most politicians.  For all China and India’s recent impressive growth they’d still be well down the rankings.  In many western countries the growth in population (often through immigration) often helps governments cover a lack of progress in other areas.  Perhaps in Japan, Russia and Italy – with their populations set to fall in the near future – the measure might catch on.

The more radical solution is to realise that growth is no longer doing anything for us.  On average we earn 6 times as much as our grandparents, but we’re working longer for that money – every week, and for more years.  They had more time to enjoy life; we have more possessions – if only we had the time to use them.

Furthermore the increase in wealth no longer makes us any happier or healthier.  As the Spirit Level shows, once countries reach a certain level of wealth (about $US15000 – and New Zealand is comfortably above that) any extra money doesn’t improve any of a wide range of social measures of well-being.  What does improve our mental and physical health, our levels of trust and our social mobility, and also lowers our levels of crime and punishment, drug abuse etc is Equality.

Equality is much more sustainable than a race to the most possessions.  It doesn’t create perverse population incentives and it doesn’t demand ever more of the world’s over-utilised resources.  And it will improve all our lives – the rich as well as the poor.  Perhaps we should embrace Equality as our new over-arching goal.

* I’m thinking of doing a digested read of the Spirit Level series if people are interested.  I’d recommend people read it themselves, but I’d rather get the message out and I can’t buy y’all a copy or the time to read it…

80 comments on “Rethinking Growth”

  1. Matthew Hooton 1

    The fallacy in this argument is to think that all economic growth comes from increased use of the world’s physical resources. Economic growth also occurs when higher value products are produced from the same phyiscal resources, or from the sale of services. A classic example would be someone writing software for a new game and selling it – this would contribute to growth but wouldn’t lead to extra use of phyiscal resources. More and more economic activity is of this nature.

    • Agreed but there is a significant correlation between economic activity and resource consumption. Replacing activity that causes consumption with something else, for instance education, would help but we need to have that discussion now.

      Good post Bunji.

    • r0b 1.2

      The fallacy in this argument is to think that all economic growth comes from increased use of the world’s physical resources

      Matthew, please tell this to your buddies in the National party, especially sexy-coal Brownlee. National need some smarter ideas than mining. Do they have any?

      • vto 1.2.1

        Yes r0b, …

        mine the coal and gold more.

        mine the waterways more.

        mine the tuna stocks more.

        mine the aquaculture seaspace more.

        the list goes on…

        I don’t think I can think of a single scheme this govt has promoted which does not entail mining / extraction of some sort.

        • Dammed 1.2.1.1

          As my 3 yr old niece says when asked to count the sweets:
          mine, mine, mine, mine…

    • rainman 1.3

      Matthew, have you read Prosperity without Growth, by Tim Jackson? I’d highly recommend it. He takes on the “de-materialisation” argument rather well, I think.

      We can’t all grow wealthy writing each other games to play, y’know. All those billions out there gotta be fed, and clothed, and accommodated, all of which take real resources. There are obvious (and nearby) efficiency limits for these things and the processes that create them. And the global have-nots, like most humans, aspire to more food, more fashion, bigger houses; increasingly cars, decent roads, cellphones and computers, maybe even 65″ TVs and whatever the next big consumer widget will be. (Although I suspect for the genuinely poor the need is mainly the more legitimate food and shelter end of that spectrum).

      Almost all of those things need more real physical resource and more stuff to be transported. What percentage of total consumer demand is actually non-material? (Excluding the fact that games run on real PCs and consoles, and are developed and deployed on real computers).

      Sadly (for those entrenched in the current mode of thinking), the game is up. We just can’t keep doing the same things we have done before – the consumption paradigm is bankrupt, unsustainable, as many have pointed out for years. Now it’s so obvious you have to be stoopid (or dishonest) to say it isn’t. Evidence is all around, but even if you ignore it, the issues Bunji lists will all too soon become un-ignorable.

      The brave and clever see this as a grand opportunity to reinvent our human enterprise, to move us up to the next step on our collective path through the universe. Unfortunately, in my experience, most conservatives are neither brave, nor clever.

    • jbanks 1.4

      I don’t think that the Luddites are capable of comprehending this.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.4.1

        Actually, as your writings have confirmed, it’s you who is incapable of understanding anything.

        • jbanks 1.4.1.1

          Actually, there is no reason why technology can’t enable the development of clean and renewable resources to replace the old. The issue here is not reversing growth or stagnating demand, it’s about tweaking with the way we grow the economy.

          So sadly your idealistic new age hippy mantra that people must shift their fear based identification with material things to one based on relationships & connectedness is not only ineffective but is unnecessary.

          • bbfloyd 1.4.1.1.1

            sadly jb, your materialistic new age mantra completely misses the point that in a world of finite resources, constant growth is impossible. any economic system that relies on constant growth is eventually going to fail. brainwashing from childhood has led us to think that unbridled consumption is a good thing for our society.
            in the long run, we are doing no more than achieving our own demise, and the inevitable descent into oblivion. massive overpopulation coupled with unthinking greed will do no more than bring the “perfect storm” down on our heads much faster than it needed to. or at all.
            the rats and cockroaches will thank us for leaving the planet in such a perfect state for them. we won’t hear the praise though, unless there is life after death.

            • Matthew Hooton 1.4.1.1.1.1

              But resources are not finite. Phyiscal things at any given time are finite, but that it another thing altogether.

              • felix

                Unfortunately Matthew, even in your imaginary world where we all get rich selling each other information we will all still need those pesky “physical things” which, as you correctly point out, are finite.

                (Of course the truth of it is that Matthew doesn’t really envision such a world – you’d have to be as stupid as banksie to take that seriously and Matthew may be many things but he isn’t stupid. No, the truth of it is that Matthew knows that for him and his ilk to continue enjoying an ever increasing lion’s share of the “physical things” the rest of us are going to have to suck it up and live with a lot less of them. ‘Cos as he says, they’re finite. No matter how many video games you write).

                • ZB

                  Please stop. People use reason to justify a position they already find acceptable. They shift their assumptions and different faith opinions to get the right reasoned argument leading to the
                  answer they want.

                  The problem with both your arguments is its based around a false assumption, that you can
                  stop the universe take a photo and control the universe as a finite assessable picture, that can be
                  discussed and reasoned about.

                  Its not about whose right, who what’s right, its about wants and needs. Are you needing to control because your weak and fear the loss of power (the right), or are you needing affirmation and peer respect so need to do some good (the left). Both sides usually battle it out quite contently and eventually meet someone in the middle ground to fight over pork.

                  BUT WAIT! That’s not the problem! We are stuffing a lack of physicists in high places!
                  Yes, a physicist would tell you that if you take a highly ordered mineral resource and apply work to
                  it then you willl increase entropy – chaos. Eventually the chaotic rubbish is thrown out into the rubbish dump and the environment (sun, bio, earth plates) will seperate out the parts and exhale the entropy out into space. Now funny thing happened, some physicist tells the great unwashed all the good thing physic can do to make the world much more controlled (by the right) and also makes people saviors ) for the left, but nobody asked them whats the downside.

                  Well the downside is a lot of resources that have been seperated by geological and biological process over millions of years are now all being mixed up again. Oil is dispersed to turn Iron Ore into fencing and cars. The fences and cars wear out in a life time (or less) and now you have to go look for more minerals and more oil. So its not just the finiteness of the unsustainability, its also the stockpiling of entropy in waste dumps.

                  The efficient way to use resources is to recycle them, like our forefathers did, they wouldn’t throw out a knife, they just shapen it. They wouldn’t throw out a computer, they just get the watchmaker to fix the watch, or the local mechanic to fix their buggy. We build too much stuff, that is thrown away and its a huge LOSS of potential monetry wealth. The markets reward the companies that ignore the enthropy crisis, those companies that make short term profit get rave reviews, those companies that build renewable products, producing quality, longlife products that don’t need replacing are overrun and their brand loyalty is quickly abused for short-term profit.

                  So until economics, markets, put respect for enthropy back into their mechanisms, throw out the efficient market theory – see it as proof of a far too simplistic stockmarket – that is unable to regulate real value for the long term, then we are all stuffed.

                  We’ve educated people for their simpleminded adherence to orthodoxy, a direct result from the communist purges in the US of the fifties, where anyone not on the same page was ousted. The US had its cultural revolution (alla china), few died but the effects were the same, a lot of authoritarian got rich being control freaks.

                  • felix

                    Absolutely.

                    “The efficient way to use resources is to recycle them, like our forefathers did, they wouldn’t throw out a knife, they just shapen it. They wouldn’t throw out a computer, they just get the watchmaker to fix the watch, or the local mechanic to fix their buggy.”

                    This is pretty much my guiding principle for navigating 21st century life. You should see my studio 😉

                    But I’m in the tiny minority of people who are really committed to reusing and repairing and repurposing stuff, not as a fun weekend project or a feelgood hat-tip to sustainability but as a central and essential part of daily life. And a small handful of us aren’t enough to make any substantial dent in the problem.

                    What’s needed is such a fundamental shift in the way we produce and consume that I’m not sure we have time to turn the corner.

                    People who talk glibly about how we can just keep recycling and never run out of materials have no idea how much of the stuff we produce is made from such a mix of materials that it’s practically implausible to extract any of them.

                    Those who haven’t actually worked with this stuff and have no idea of the magnitude of the problem find it easy to talk theoretically about recycling solutions. The entropy you describe is the all too real problem they’ve never had to address.

                    • Carol

                      How much does the use of plastic, make recycling difficult. And what alternative materials should we try to use?

                    • felix

                      Sorry Carol, missed this.

                      Yep plastic is a huge problem. Some of it can be recycled, but usually only once. The PET and HDPE plastics that you put in your recycling bin get turned into lower grade plastics to make sewer pipes, traffic bollards etc and that’s the end of the “cycle” if you can even call it that. Better than just using it once? Maybe, depends how much energy it takes to process.

                      Here’s a quick look at some of the related issues.

                      Perhaps the biggest problem though is that unlike food and drink packaging, the other stuff – plastic toys, consumer electronics, car parts, general household stuff – tends to include components made from several different types of plastic which makes recycling these items practically impossible.

                      What alternative materials should we try to use? Anything that doesn’t present these problems. Metals that can be melted to create more of the same metal, over and over again, timbers that can be grown within the useful life of the products made from them etc.

                      But most importantly, things that don’t need to be thrown away and melted down at all but can simply be used again and again.

                    • Sarah

                      Indeed it is a tiny minority that actually face this entropy. The futher you dig, the more you realise that there is SO MUCH STUFF around. However, you have ‘work’ it. It aint easy being green. Reusing instead of buying, washing instead of throwing away, exchanging and bartering, and buying from local markets instead of the easy super market all takes TIME. People buy time from the economy, and the economy then robs them of it by making people work. They do not have the time to cut, chop, mix, pour, knead, soak, store, sort, trade, preserve, share, refill, cook. And if that is all you did, you would be poor? Only when nobody else is doing it.

                    • nzfp

                      Sarah I have to say that your comment “People buy time from the economy, and the economy then robs them of it” is a perfect description of our problems today.

                      The economy defines the rules of the game, if the rules require us to be as individualistic, selfish, violent and destructive as we can just to play, then we need to change the rules. Change the rules and we change the game.

              • rainman

                Perhaps so, Matthew, but what use are “resources” as you define them for providing the necessary and desirable physical things I referred to above? Your first statement is obviously correct – not all economic growth comes from physical resource exploitation. But economic growth ain’t worth a knob of goat shit on it’s own, at least for providing material prosperity to those who don’t have it. To lift all those billions who have just about nothing to the level of those who currently have way more than is required will take more planets than we have; and therefore it just won’t happen.

                I don’t care how rich we all get on paper, selling each other creative intellectual property and entertainment. Even assuming that an economy based on such hallucinations would be more equitable than the capitalism of today (and it wouldn’t), we’d rather fall over when we went to spend all of our paper wealth on, y’know, actual, real, physical objects. No good being very wealthy on paper and not be able to use it.

                In fact, to lift the genuinely poor to what is currently a comfortable lower middle class level (modest house, car, TV and other electronic devices, clothes, varied diet, takeaways, some books, occasional travel and entertainment, etc) fails the same test. There is not enough physical stuff to do this. Nor environmental capacity to try, as it happens, at least using the processes and methods of today.

                Now, we might consider the above and decide there is an ethical issue in play. If we are already wealthier (material terms, remember) than we need to be to sustain an adequate life, and billions are borderline or below that standard, perhaps we should apply our efforts not to increasing economic growth at all costs, but rather at increasing economic equity. In material terms, of course. If not everyone can be as materially wealthy as the best of us (and the discrepancy between top and bottom is vast indeed) then is it remotely ethical for the wealthy to act to preserve their position?

          • Outofbed 1.4.1.1.2

            The “new age hippies” have actually won the argument JB
            The fact that and old rwnj like you, use the terms enable the development of clean and renewable resources’ shows that.
            I agree that”the issue here is not reversing growth or stagnating demand, ”
            Its about rethinking our relationship with each other and the planet that supports us.
            I happen to believe that change is slowly happening, sure there are a few old dinosaurs like brownlee, hooten, jbanks etal but they will die out .

            In a couple of generations we maybe be all standing around a museum exhibit of a stuffed brownlee. saying “goodness, did we really use to think like that !”

          • Draco T Bastard 1.4.1.1.3

            As I said, and what you’ve just proved again, is that you are incapable of understanding anything at all.

            Infinite growth is impossible, ergo, we must stop the “growth” which is killing our world.

            • jbanks 1.4.1.1.3.1

              Your arrogance has no limits. Your infantile straw-man opinion isn’t a universal truth just because B Roper told you.

              Nobody is denying entropy here. Of course one day we might have to look at population control measures. This isn’t stopping growth, as I said it’s changing the way we grow.

              So stop your end of the world nonsense, get a job, and join the real world.

              • Draco T Bastard

                We needed to bring in population control when global population was at about 1 billion (i.e. ~6 billion people ago). If we’d done that then we would have stopped the “growth” that is killing us. We wouldn’t have stopped technological progress but we at least would have stopped the Anthropogenic ELE that we’ve brought about.

                Yes, I’m an arrogant bastard – hence the name – but what stawman are you talking about? It seems to me that you’re just naming it that because you have no argument.

                • jbanks

                  Your population control figure is highly exaggerated and your ‘extinction-level event’ hysteria is plain loony.

                  There is enough resources for the population, it’s just that they’re not free.

                  Your strawman is that proponents of growth aren’t concerned with sustainability whatsoever.

                  • loota

                    There is enough resources for the population, it’s just that they’re not free.

                    Uhhhhh…how can there be “enough” resources when billions of people cannot access them?

                    I think you are saying that there are enough resources to go around to satisfy the demand from people who can pay for those resources.

                    That’s quite different to having enough resources to satisfy everyone who needs those resources.

                    • jbanks

                      No I’m saying there is enough resources to satisfy everyone who needs those resources, but they don’t have access to them as need doesn’t guarantee access. Resources have a dollar value.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    So, you don’t have an argument at all then?

                    Thought not. Just delusional and psychopathic rantings.

                    • jbanks

                      My argument is that you’ve got no evidence to back up your outlandish street corner preaching that the world is over populated by 6 billion and that the end of the world is nigh.
                      You’re just not very intelligent draco, there’s a reason why you and your ilk have limited power and control over the future of our planet.

                      Here’s a tip for you. Studying political science and going to all your international socialist meetings isn’t going to change jack. Have a shave, get a real job and start contributing to society. Then maybe the rest of us will take you seriously.

                  • roger nome

                    So banksy – let’s start you off with something nice and simple. Ever heard of the idea of Energy Returned on Energy Invested?

                    In physics, energy economics and ecological energetics, EROEI (energy returned on energy invested), ERoEI, or EROI (energy return on investment), is the ratio of the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy expended to obtain that energy resource. When the EROEI of a resource is equal to or lower than 1, that energy source becomes an “energy sink”, and can no longer be used as a primary source of energy.

                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EROEI

                    Now – can anyone tell Banksy why this is going to be a problem in the not too distant future? I’ll give you a clue, it’s got someting to do with the laws of physics, but they may or may not apply in Banksy’s future.

                    p.s. Tell me to get a job and i’ll sell my business, by an HPR and oswald you dick head (jokes ok?).

                    • jbanks

                      Oh noez!??! We only have fossil fuels for energy? There’s no such thing as renewable energy ie. natural resources that naturally replenish?!?! And you linked to wikipedia!! Can’t argue with that.

                      You just won the prize for biggest dickjuggling shitmuppet. Congratulations.

                    • felix

                      “dickjuggling shitmuppet”

                      I have to admit I laughed out loud at that beautiful bit of phrasing, banksie. I still don’t like you though.

                    • roger nome

                      Yeah – fo’ sure an amusing insult – but you, of course missed the point. Renewables offer a far lower EROEI. The wealth of the 20th century was created by the huge surplus energy created by the high EROEI of easily accesable, relitively pure fossil fueals. Less energy surplus means less resource to create wealth, meaning we’ll have to adajust to a low growth economy. The transition is going to be very painful, and the later we leave it to adjust our paradigm to reality, the more painful it’s going to be. Is it really that hard for you to understand?

              • roger nome

                lol – is that really jbanks or is it redbaiter? They both apear to bring the same degree of intellectual capacity and evidence to the debate. Do morons like this really run the country?

              • roger nome

                Jb-angst really brings new meaning to the dead kennedys song “terminal preppy” (well, it’s his kind of lifestyle that’s proving terminal for us all).

                If it gave him more status, and he could afford it, he would stuff the worlds silicon deposits into his partner’s tits, and parade her arround for photo shoots, and fuck the environmental consequences.

                Enjoy all:

      • The Voice of Reason 1.4.2

        The Luddites were the tradesmen of their time, jb, the elite of those who worked for a wage. They organised socially, politically and militarily and posed a direct threat to the English state that required a massive extra-judicial intervention to quell. So I’d say they’d be more capable of comprehension than, say, your average RWNJ.

        And, anyway, their modern day equivalents are hardly technophobes. You’re on a blog, fer chrissakes.

      • roger nome 1.4.3

        Jb-angst really brings new meaning to the dead kennedys song “terminal preppy” (well, it’s his kind of lifestyle that’s proving terminal for us all).

        If it gave him more status, and he could afford it, he would stuff the worlds silicon deposits into his partner’s tits, and parade her around for photo shoots, and fuck the environmental consequences.

        Enjoy all:

    • Draco T Bastard 1.5

      A classic example would be someone writing software for a new game and selling it this would contribute to growth but wouldn’t lead to extra use of phyiscal resources.

      I take it you’re not a gamer then? New games usually need more powerful computers which means that the people playing them go out and buy them meaning that new games and software in general (don’t try to run Windows Vista on a machine that was designed for Windows XP) uses more resources.

      Then there’s the market itself and the capitalist need to make a profit. As a market become saturated profit reduces towards zero and as the average run of the mill capitalist is out to make a profit that means that the market needs to be expanded and there’s only one way to do that and that is through more people. Which means using more resources.

      We could produce everything we need (high tech stuff that we presently don’t make included) in NZ from NZ resources. Resource use would be minimal with recycling high on the agenda and a high standard of living for everyone. On top of that it could be sustainable – if we kept our population static but that won’t happen because the capitalists require profit which requires growth as well as to pay the interest on the non-existent money that the banks loaned into the economy.

      Our present psychopathic system requires growing consumption without it the whole lot falls over.

    • roger nome 1.6

      Hooten – you’re such a flapper. Where are your statistical regression studies? Without these you are just saying “one aspect of our paradigm is good in this way, so it’s good if you take that in isolation, whilst ignoring everything else” – it’s like the Nats pronouncing that the 90 day bill will create jobs, just because thier simplistic two-demension line graph says so. Never mind that lower wages lead to lower demand for products and services, and therefore jobs – i.e. once you take all things into account it could actually lead to fewer jobs.

      Similarly your argument could mean a small saving in resource use per unit of GDP – but the overall trend is clear. The global use of hydrocarbons for the last 100 years has increased roughly unit for unit with the growth of the global economy (a computer CPU actually takes a hell of a lot of energy to run).

      So your argument, as with so many market fundamentalist arguments, reveals a simplistic and/or deceptive person behind it. Probably a little of both with you.

    • bbfloyd 1.7

      m.h… yes that’s just what we need. yet another waste of time and resources.does the fact that computer games have been found to be one of the main reasons that the last couple of generations of children struggle to relate to others on any meaningful level, with the corresponding disaffection and or isolation. the reasons that this sort of approach should be discouraged have been well documented, and are too numerous for me to stretch your attention span here.
      so can you think of an example that doesn’t actually make matters worse?

      • Descendant Of Smith 1.7.1

        What a load of crap. I’ve been playing computer games since the late 70’s and have a ever much wider circles of friends across the world that I ever would have had otherwise.

        Gaming is an activity that bridges generations – I’m just as likely to being playing a 13 year old kid and a 30 year old woman at the same time. My kids have met up with people they have been playing against since they were 6 or 8 and all the kids concerned were well rounded intelligent pleasant individuals.

        Most people I know who game play sport, or martial arts, or read books e.g. they have a wide range of activity.

        The only people who think shit like that are those who don’t game.

        Of course individuals can become addicted but that’s true of any activity from TV, to golf, to running marathons, to getting pissed at the pub and so on.

        There’s no evidence that gaming is harmful in any meaningful way for by far the majority of people – anymore than reading Catcher In The Rye was or rock n roll.

        Given that youth violence has decreased significantly since gaming developed you can’t even argue the violence issue.

        If kids can’t communicate it is much more likely to do with drugs and alcohol and poverty and racism and abusive parents that it ever has to do with gaming.

        • roger nome 1.7.1.1

          DOS – is the typical “quantity = quality” rightist. He probably doesn’t eaven know that Adam Smith had serious reservations about applying the free market to asymetric trading relationships but never mind.

          Tell me – does the 13 year old in Korea give you a good spooning at night? Are they there for you when your world is falling apart? nah – grasp the point yet?

  2. Jenny 2

    Language is an interesting thing.

    The word growth is also widely used as a euphemism for profit.

    After all this is the only type of growth that capitalism is interested in.

    So when we talk about turning away from a system of eternal growth, we are actually talking about turning away from the profit system of production. At present most of all human production is “for profit” and not for use. (Though many of the products and services that our technological society churn out are very useful, this is not their main criteria for their creation.)

    What this endless production for profit, (growth) means, is that an endless and wasteful stream of human and natural resources are used ineficiently and wastefully.

    For instance though we are encouraged to recycle and sort our rubbish into glass paper and organic, there is not much profit in this business. Because of the lunacy of profit production, it is deemed that someone has to make a profit from processing and recycling all this waste.

    The result?

    Most of it still ends up in landfills further depleting our natural resources.

    The fact is, that there is more profit to be made from mining pristine parks than recycling the minerals plastics glass and metals we have already.

    If the ‘growth’ factor, (profit factor) was eliminated from the productive economy, and all production was at cost, this would tilt the balance away from waste.

    At present because of profit/growth

    There is more profit in cars vs. public transport.

    There is more profit in oil and coal vs. renewable energy.

    There is more profit in disposable consumer items like millions of plastic shampoo bottles and the like, vs. refillable containers.

    Ultimately there is profit in polluting our world.

    Sustainability means eliminating the profit mode of production.

    Is the elimination of private profit a utopian dream?

    Can the democratic production for human use happiness and health at cost, instead of for private profit be attainable

    In our lifetimes we may be the generation that has to find out.

    Why?

    Because the very sustainability of our environment and even our survival may depend on it.

    capcha – reduces

  3. Neil Armstrong reckoned once that we should all take a look at the earth from space and then we would see the world quite differently. By this he meant that planets have a finite amount of resources and that all this growth stuff is just a method of some people getting a lot and many not getting very much. We quite plainly live in a place where everyone could have very good life styles – everyone in the world could have a very high level of housing, adequate food, excellent health care etc. But our system stops this happening and works for the few and not all. Economic growth doesn’t solve this and certainly as a target it probably precludes it. We need, in my opinion, to set goals around quality of life and then work towards these – ultimately we only get one chance at life (reincarnation believers forgive me) do we really want this to be based on economic growth or people living good, happy, fulfilled lives. Seems to me these things are often mutually exclusive and that time with families, caring for others, community involvement (heaven forbid – even time for sport, games and holidays) is being reduced further and further in the pursuit of economic growth – strangely for most of us with the result that we are working longer hours and becoming poorer.

  4. Gaby 4

    Good article, thanx. I for one would be interested in the digested read.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    But now is the time to question whether it should still be our main aim and guiding light.

    Actually, just after the Second World War was the time to start asking that question. Unfortunately, we didn’t and the economists had come up with the delusional idea that growth was all that was needed. So we “grew” and now the world is on course for an anthropogenic ELE courtesy of all the growth that we’ve done in the intervening decades.

    I’m thinking of doing a digested read of the Spirit Level series if people are interested.

    A series would probably be good.

  6. RedLogix 6

    Bunji,

    I’m thinking of doing a digested read of the Spirit Level series if people are interested.

    Go for it. Although it has already had a fantastic penetration, it would still have only been seen by a tiny minority. Even my elderly father in his mid-80’s got a great reception presenting it at a U3A meeting recently.

    As he put it to me, while no-one should imagine that the 1940’s and 50’s was any kind of golden age, and no-one would want to magically leap back to those times…. we were nonetheless a more equal and a happier society.

    From his perspective, while he was orphaned by WW2 and had virtually nothing as a boy and young man…. he recalls his life as largely happy and carefree. If he wanted to get somewhere in Auckland in those days, he just ran there… in bare feet. The contrast with his grandchildren, while they have far more goodies and live more ostensibly comfortable lives, is not a sanguine one.

    • QoT 6.1

      You had me up to “more equal” and then I kinda threw up a little. Sure, maybe the rich/poor divide wasn’t as severe but referring to that as “more equal” when it certainly bloody wasn’t for women, people of colour, people with disabilities, GLBTQI folk? Yeah no.

  7. McFlock 7

    without going so much into the global aspects of it, my feeling is that NZ’s obsession with GDP has been a big con.

    The theory is that if the pie gets bigger, there’s more of it for everyone.

    What we’ve actually seen is that the already wealthy grab more pie as the pie gets bigger, even eating into the pieces that the poorer people have.

    Those of us who already have large chunks of pie are better placed to take even more pie than those without.

    GDP per capita wouldn’t pick this up, either.

    • Rosy 7.1

      ‘growing the pie’ is a metaphor for the discredited ‘trickle-down’ theory – just as the sieve didn’t have enough holes, the pie will never have enough slices to share among the poor.

  8. Jenny 8

    Language is a strange thing.

    Don Brash is one of those whose direct understanding of ‘growth’ is profit.

    Don Brash is one of the befuddled high priests of promoting growth.
    According to the Brash bible, increases in profits is ‘growth’ and as such is a good thing.

    However for Brash increases in workers wages or public health provision, or free education, or recycling are costs on ‘growth’.

    In the language of Brash, increases in such things are labelled inflationary.

    ie. a rise in prices and profits is ‘growth’, a good thing.

    However a rise in wages and social provision is ‘inflation’, a bad thing.

    Inflation as most people understand it, is the rise in the basic commodities needed to survive in this society. But not to people like Brash, as a rise in prices often results in more profit (growth) especially if wages and social provision fall behind, (as is currently the case).

    This is unless of course there are strong unions or social movements able to claw back higher wages. Similar to what occurred the ’70s. The language of the people like Brash then used to complain of a ‘wage price spiral’. Notice again the use of language. Though the wage increases fought for by unions often followed price increases, this was never referred to as a ‘Price Wage Spiral’.

    Going back to the environment this is also seen as a added drag on ‘growth’ just as wage rises or public health provision is. And so will be bitterly opposed by the profit takers, and their high priests in government and the treasury.

  9. KJT 9

    From Wikipedia.
    One of the main corporate members is BP!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Business_Council_for_Sustainable_Development
    WBCSD’s 10 messages by which to operate

    1. Business is good for sustainable development and sustainable development is good for business. Business is part of the sustainable development solution, while sustainable development is an effective long-term business growth strategy.
    2. Business cannot succeed in societies that fail. There is no future for successful business if the societies that surround it are not working. Governments and business must create partnerships to deliver essential societal services like energy, water, health care and infrastructure.
    3. Poverty is a key enemy to stable societies. Poverty creates political and economic instability, a big threat to business and sustainable development. By contrast, businesses can lift living standards and eradicate poverty.
    4. Access to markets for all supports sustainable development. Sustainable development is best achieved through open, transparent and competitive global markets.
    5. Good governance is needed to make business a part of the solution. Supportive frameworks and regulations are needed for business to contribute fully to sustainable development.
    6. Business has to earn its licence to operate, innovate and grow. The way business acts and is perceived is crucial to its success. Accountability, ethics, transparency, social and environmental responsibility and trust are basic prerequisites for successful business and sustainable development.
    7. Innovation and technology development are crucial to sustainable development. They provide key solutions to many of the problems that threaten sustainable development. Business has always been, and will continue to be, the main contributor to technological development.
    8. Eco-efficiency doing more with less – is at the core of the business case for sustainable development. Combining environmental and economic operational excellence to deliver goods and services with lower external impacts and higher quality-of-life benefits is a key sustainable development strategy for business.
    9. Ecosystems in balance a prerequisite for business. Business cannot function if ecosystems and the services they deliver, such as water, biodiversity, food, fiber and climate, are degraded.
    10. Cooperation beats confrontation. Sustainable development challenges are huge and require contributions from all parties — governments, business, civil societies and international bodies. Confrontation puts the solutions at risk. Cooperation and creative partnerships foster sustainable development.[10]

    Copied from. http://kjt-kt.blogspot.com/2010_06_01_archive.html

  10. bbfloyd 10

    jenny… a thoughtful post. i agree with the thrust of your arguement. i am curious though… something that i have never understood. people like brash for example, are extremely intelligent, as are a proportion of the nact apologists that attempt to rationalise the govt’s actions. why is it that such clever people can be so incredibly stupid when it comes to facing what is, such an obvious reality that growth in a finite environment can’t be sustained forever?

    • Draco T Bastard 10.1

      Psychopathy. They really have no care as to what happens to anyone or anybody else as long as they get what they think they deserve (and they’ll find some way to take it if they’re not being given it).

      • bbfloyd 10.1.1

        no doubt they are the ones who assume that they will escape the extinction that this kind of stupidity is hastening.

      • marsman 10.1.2

        So true Draco. Brash’s dictum that unemployed ‘punters’ should be made to gather each morning on some corner in case a truck came by to pick them up for a day’s work. And now the prick is troughing it to the max and the ‘punters’ are paying for it. Vile people!

        • RedLogix 10.1.2.1

          True enough mm. In general Helen Clark kept her politics (in public at least) impersonal and principled. The one very striking exception was the day she described Brash as ‘cancerous and corrosive’… and I believe that was no mere emotive outburst.

          While I’m absolutely no fan of Key, its clear NZ dodged an very large caliber bullet the day Labour won the 2005 Election.

          • marsman 10.1.2.1.1

            Unfortunately the rest of the Hollow Men,including Key,who are equally cancerous and corrosive are running the show,but they are more under-hand than Brash and therefore to many ‘punters’ perhaps not perceived as the menace they truly are.

  11. Zaphod Beeblebrox 11

    Wasn’t it Malthus who predicted we would all starve in the 1970s due to over-population? Never happened because we adapted and became more efficient in our use of resources. No reason why we can’t do the same thing again. Stop the third world over-population and stop making so much crap.

    • RedLogix 11.1

      ZP,

      Malthus was much earlier than that, his most famous work appearing in 1798.

      What you may be thinking of was the well-known Club of Rome study that appeared in the 1970’s, called “The Limits to Growth”. It was the first and most controversial attempt of it’s kind, and while for many years it’s been fashionable to poo-poo it’s predictions, in fact it may well have turned out to be a lot more accurate that most of us think.

    • Draco T Bastard 11.2

      Yes, there is a reason why we can’t do it again – there isn’t enough resources. It’s not just the third world that’s overpopulated – the UK can’t support itself with more than ~6m (and that was after all the forests were cut down) and yet it has ~61m.

    • bbfloyd 11.3

      one assumes that as the third world is where most of the starvation is going on, then they can’t be producing much “crap”. one has to eat sufficiently in order for the body to have to process waste products… we probably produce more tonnage of doo doo here in nz than any individual third world country.
      i do agree they have to do something meaningful to limit population growth, or reverse it. although short of lining all of the leadership of said countries and shooting them, there doesn’t seem to be the will to do anything meaningful about this.

      • Zaphod Beeblebrox 11.3.1

        Japan decided in the 17th century that they wanted to preseve their forests so they put limits on population growth. This got halted later on but they still retain large areas of untouched vegetation and they haven’t increased the amount of land used for agriculture for at leats 300 years.

        Because they refuse to accept migrants, they are about the only country that has lost population over the past 15 years. Switzerland and Italy (and some others in Europe mainly) are the other countries that are not increasing population.

        Jared Diamond “Why some societies choose to Fail…” talks about pacific island societies that take drastic steps (infanticide and expulsion) becuase they know that the island’s resourrces and eco-system can only support a certain number of individuals before the natural capital becomes degraded.

        If you need to limit your population- it can be done. For political and economic reasons leaders decide otherwise however.

        In our modern world you see nations like Israel and Palestine with ridiculously large popoulations that can only be supported via international aid- surely and unsustainable situation.

    • Bunji 11.4

      In fact the Low and Middle-Income countries live nearly sustainably, needing just 5% more resources than their countries produce. Rather it’s the rich countries with their more expansive diets and desire for the latest iPadAndroidBerry that need to (on average) halve their populations to be using no more resources than they have. Of course the 3rd world might like to stop having their people starve and instead lead western lifestyles, but as it is currently our over-consumption is even more of a problem than their over-population.

      • Herodotus 11.4.1

        Does not every organism use the available resources until their environment is unable to cope and the population collapses, this type of cycle of events play out over time with different organisms making hay as these microcycles or at a greater level macrocycles have their natural times.
        we are the only creature that is capable of altering our environment for our short term benefit, then having to adjust accordingly on the unforeseen consequences that this creates. then add in human nature.
        The economic growth strategy that is the current world model that we follow. This like all micro versions e.g. Businesses, displays the natural business lifecycle. The same will apply to mankind unless there is a cataclysmal event, that will necessitate change (For those that survive) e.g. Survivors on Prime. otherwise how will the current model be changed. Some can see “the future is nigh” and walk around with billboards but all that means is some can say I told you so, but this will not constitute change, at least bunji you can tell the rest of us “I told….”
        http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/wholefarm/html/c4-10.html

        • loota 11.4.1.1

          Does not every organism use the available resources until their environment is unable to cope and the population collapses

          quite a few organisms are able to live in a ~steady state and mutually beneficial symbiosis.

          Skin commensals for instance.

          • McFlock 11.4.1.1.1

            the other point being that pretty much every other type of organism on the planet cannot share scientific data over decades and create a “big picture”.

            Wildebeest might go “shit, I’m hungry and there’s no food around” if they were self-aware.
            What they absolutely can’t do is go “shit, if 50,000,000 wildebeest in the known world eat X acres of grass a year, and we only know of Y acres of grassland, and Y=0.75X, we’re screwed. What can we do to get ourselves out of this jam?”

            We do not have an excuse.

  12. Bill 12

    “Initially this (growth) made sense the growth lifted people out of poverty, improved lifestyles and so on.”

    Industrial production, medical research and a highly effective left that governments of the day were afraid of among other factors, but not growth – improved lives.

    You appear to understand this fallacy of growth in relation to poverty alleviation later on when you say

    “For all China and India’s recent impressive growth they’d still be well down the (GDP per capita) rankings.”

    It’s pretty easy really. Economic growth demands the enslavement of the majority of a particular population. So we get enclosure…people forcibly removed from the land to work the factories etc. That enslavement creates very real and acute poverty. Once enslaved, there is a prospect for some to alleviate their poverty.

    Economic growth brings people out of poverty…uh-huh. – “They break our legs, and we say ‘Thankyou!’ when they offer us crutches.”

    • Draco T Bastard 12.1

      Industrial production, medical research and a highly effective left that governments of the day were afraid of among other factors, but not growth improved lives.

      Technological and social progress made a difference – not growth or profit.

      Economic growth brings people out of poverty uh-huh. “They break our legs, and we say ‘Thankyou!’ when they offer us crutches.’

      That sounds like capitalism and the beneficiary bashing that comes from the RWNJs.

  13. John 13

    If you read Richard Heinberg’s “Peak Everything” ;We have come to the end of growth fuelled cheaply by cheap oil,which is now set for terminal decline. To quote “we are enmeshed in a classic self-reinforcing loop”: More fossil fuel extraction—-More available energy—-Increased extraction of other resources and production of food and other goods—-Population growth—-Higher energy demand—-More fossil fuel extraction. This growth paradigm is now kaput as fossil fuel inputs are in decline and resources to extract are severely depleted plus the blowback of climate change. We have to find a new game:I recommend mixed economy socialism,under this system those who are most productive will still be rewarded more than those who are not,it requires growing the State again in the name of all New Zealanders.

  14. Re population, it is worth looking at overconsumption and who consumes the most. Also interesting to note that Ecuador is wiling to leave some oil in the ground in a fragile wilderness area in exchange for financial support from developed countries.

    Have a we look at this:

    If you want to start a campaign focusing on grossly conspicuous consumption as an environmental crime, then an appropriate poster boy would be Ira Rennert, currently the 144th richest man in the world. Forbes magazine pegs his net worth at US$5.3 Billion.

    Just over ten years ago Rennert built (more accurately: had other people build for him) a new vacation home in the Hamptons, on Long Island, New York. There are many large summer homes in the area, but Rennert’s place, dubbed Fair Field, is believed to be the largest contemporary residence in America.

    In addition to three swimming pools, a $150,000 hot tub, and a 164-seat movie theatre, it features:

    25 bedrooms and as many full bathrooms, 11 sitting rooms, three dining rooms, and two libraries; a servants’ wing with 4 more bedrooms; a power plant big enough to run a large municipal high school or shopping mall; a 10,000-square-foot “playhouse’ with two bowling alleys and tennis, squash, and basketball courts; and a multi-story, 17,000-square-foot garage capable of accommodating perhaps 100 cars. [1]

    The total area of the buildings at Fair Field is over 100,000 square feet, but the main house alone, at 66,000 square feet, is almost twice as big as the White House and 40% larger than Bill Gates’ more famous home in Washington State.

    Rennert travels in a private Gulfsteam 5 jet, perhaps to save time travelling to his other homes. He owns one of the most expensive private homes in Jerusalem, a palatial property he bought for a rumored $4 million in 1996 and then had completely renovated, including installing what are said to be the most advanced electrical, climate-control, and water-filtration systems in Israel. That’s in addition to his luxurious duplex apartment on Park Avenue in New York City, which is near the twin $30 million apartments he bought for his daughters as gifts. [2]

    ———–
    Rennert’s wealth comes from his 95% ownership of Renco Group, a private holding company whose principal subsidiaries are the only primary magnesium producer in the U.S., US Magnesium Corp. (MagCorp), and the largest primary lead producer in the western world, Doe Run Resources Corporation.

    In 1996 MagCorp was named the number one polluting industrial facility in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency. As recently as April 2010, the EPA said that investigations on the company’s Utah site found “high levels of environmental contamination . [including] arsenic, chromium, mercury, copper, and zinc; acidic waste water; chlorinated organics; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); dioxins/furans, hexachlorobenzene (HCB); and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These wastes are being released into the environment and are largely uncontrolled

    Like many polluters in the Global North, Renco has in recent years shifted its focus to countries where there are fewer regulations, weak enforcement, and many poor people who desperately need jobs. In 1997 it bought a lead, silver, gold, copper and zinc operation in the Andean city of La Oroya, from the Peruvian government for $126 million: as part of the deal, Doe Run Peru was required to lend $126 million to Renco, interest free.

    That money could have been used to live up to another part of the deal: Rennert promised to modernize the smelter and clean up the environment. An environmental study six years later found that concentrations of lead, sulfur dioxide and arsenic in the air had increased since the takeover: Renco still says it can’t afford the promised upgrades.

    In March 2005, 99 percent of Oroyo children tested had blood lead levels vastly exceeding EPA and World Health Organization limits.

    In 2007, the UK Guardian sent a prize-winning journalist Hugh O’Shaughnessy to La Oroya:

    The quality of air sampled in the neighborhood by three Peruvian voluntary agencies showed 85 times more arsenic, 41 times more cadmium and 13 times more lead than is safe. In parts of the town the water supply contains 50 per cent more lead than levels recommended by the World Health Organization. The untreated waters of the Mantaro river are contaminated with copper, iron, manganese, lead and zinc and are not suitable for irrigation or consumption by animals, according to the standards supposed to be legally enforced in Peru. The water coming out of the nearby Huascacocha lake contains more than four times the legal limit of manganese.[5]

    In August 2009 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights agreed to hear a case that accuses Peru’s pro-business government of “violating the rights to life, personal integrity, and to information and access to justice, due to toxic pollution from Doe Run Peru’s multi-metal smelter in La Oroya, Peru.’ [6]

    The Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland have identified La Oroya as one of the Ten Worst Polluted Places on Earth, a list that also includes Chernobyl. [7]

    http://climateandcapitalism.com/?p=2909

  15. The article/post finishes:

    ‘… a more important point is the distinction between consumption and power.

    As an individual consumer, Rennert represents hyper-consumption at its worst. His way of living is a gross insult to the earth.

    But as the owner of the Renco Group Inc., Rennert has shortened the lives of tens of thousands of people and laid waste to entire ecosystems.

    As a consumer, Rennert lives an excessively wasteful life. As a capitalist, he has power over the way that other people live and the way that they die.

    That’s a fundamental difference that can’t be reduced to too many people consuming too much.’

    (references etc are on the link – http://climateandcapitalism.com/?p=2909)

    • Draco T Bastard 15.1

      Do copy/paste a paragraph or two and then add a comment. Don’t copy/paste the entire article – a link is fine.

  16. re economic growth – Clive Hamilton (who will be in chch in september speaking at the readers and writers festival> http://www.chchwritersfest.co.nz/article.php?category=30&article=100) wrote a book called growth festish that is worth a read.
    http://www.clivehamilton.net.au/cms/index.php?page=growth_fetish

    steady state economics offers an alternative to the redundant economic growth mantra http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steady_state_economy

    anyone that feels that things might get rough, or big changes are a comin can look at permiculture research into different energy descent etc models (different scenarios and societies): http://www.futurescenarios.org/content/view/50/71/

    Here is the part on descent scenarios:
    http://www.futurescenarios.org/content/view/37/45/

    Four Energy Descent scenarios are considered, each emerging from a combination of either fast of slow oil decline and either mild or severe climate change over the next 10-30 years.

    *

    Brown Tech: (slow oil decline, fast climate change)
    *

    Green Tech: (slow oil decline, slow climate change)
    *

    Earth Steward: (fast oil decline, slow climate change)
    *

    Lifeboats: (fast oil decline , fast climate change)

  17. the contents of growth fetish are on this link – chapters 1,2 and 3 can be downloaded from here>
    http://www.clivehamilton.net.au/cms/index.php?page=growth_fetish

    1. Growth fetishism
    The growth fetish
    Economists on wellbeing
    The great contradiction
    Political implications

    2. Growth and wellbeing
    Income
    Personal happiness
    Values and meaning
    Alternative measures

    3. Identity
    Having and wanting
    Consumption and the modern self
    Marketing
    Overconsumption

  18. Bored 18

    Beaut post all, the usual suspects claiming the techno miracle will save us all from our worst excesses. In reality we passed peak on the environment, and in extreme debit. The ecosystem produces a surplus which we could sustainably utilise, but the methods we use have wrecked the base which means the surplus decreases annually.

    A great local example of denial thinking was shown last week on 60 Minutes where a marine biologist showed his research into whale deaths and squid numbers. There was as always a very small possibility that his empiricism and conclusions were wrong, but highly unlikely. The corporate spokeman for MFish, a lawyer just denied there might even be an issue, it did not suit his departments role or methodology. No debate, which for an intellegent man showed a completely closed institutional mind. The precipice approaches.

  19. Carol 19

    A sobering op ed/report on how the “growth” in China and its western multinational corporate franchisers have been built on the brutal enslavemment of hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-and-now-for-some-good-news-2044578.html

    The good news is that thousands of Chinese workers workers are rebelling and forming unions to push for fairer wages and conditions.

    As I’ve understood it the growth/profit system incorporates a notion of competition. And in any competition, there will be winners and users. It seems to me a more stable and genuininely productive system would be built on concepts that focus on producing goods, services and finance that are required to provide a sustainable and quality life for all the population, not just the “winners” in some unfairly rigged competition, built on cycles of boom and bust.

  20. green jobs 20

    What is the Labour Party position on economic growth?

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